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Parade organizer and WRAL’s lawyer trade letters as broadcast dispute continues

The bad blood between the organizer of the Raleigh Christmas Parade and its former longtime sponsor is continuing as Saturday’s event nears, with accusations of unethical motives and a threat of potential “legal matters.”

A lengthy letter sent by the board of the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association to its members questions the ethics of WRAL – which sponsored and broadcast the parade for 43 years – and called on the TV station to “do the right thing, do the ethical thing, do the responsible thing” and not broadcast this year’s parade.

Late Monday afternoon, WRAL’s lawyer sent its own letter to the merchants association accusing it of “defamatory statements.”

Last month, WRAL lost its parade contract to rival WTVD. Still, WRAL announced that it plans to broadcast Saturday’s parade anyway.

GRMA is not allowing WRAL-TV or WRAL-FM to have floats in the parade because they applied after the Sept. 11 deadline. GRMA also sent letters to parade participants last week banning WRAL cameras from any entries, under threat of removing those entries from the parade and banning them from future parades.

The GRMA letter laid out a number of grievances the association has with WRAL. It states that WRAL failed to live up to “certain contractual obligations” in the past. Jennifer Martin, director of the merchants association, declined to elaborate on specifics Monday, saying that the issues had been raised directly with the station.

The letter quotes from the mission statement and ethics policy of Capitol Broadcasting Company, the parent company of WRAL, and says merchants should “ask yourselves whether WRAL’s actions meet those standards.”

It says that since learning on Oct. 3 that WRAL did not receive the contract, the station had “retaliated against GRMA in many ways.” It goes on to say that WRAL’s airing of the parade is “taking away viewership from the official broadcast for its own financial gain and in an effort, we believe, calculated to harm GRMA and retaliate for its loss of the parade contract.”

WRAL vice president and general manager Steve Hammel responded to the letter on Monday: “There are numerous inaccuracies in the letter sent to GRMA members and parade participants. Instead, I want to focus on what GRMA and WRAL have in common.

“We both want a tremendous parade for our community,” Hammel continued. “As the hometown station, we have broadcast the Raleigh Christmas Parade for the past 43 years. For generations, WRAL has played a big part in our community’s celebration of the holiday season. I’m proud to say that the efforts of the WRAL team will ensure that the tradition continues again this year despite having not been chosen as the title sponsor.”

Martin said on Monday, “We have had an overwhelming response of support from merchants and community patrons that have read the letter.”

Jon Sasser, attorney for WRAL, sent a letter to GRMA’s attorney, Bill Pollock, disputing numerous claims in the GRMA letter, including that WRAL failed to live up to its contracts in the past, that WRAL is trying to confuse the public and that WRAL retaliated against the group after losing the contract.

Sasser also disputes previous GRMA claims that there was only one vote taken on the parade contract. He says at least one board member reportedly voted for WRAL during the Oct. 3 vote, which Martin has said was the only vote taken and was a unanimous vote for WTVD. Sasser did not identify the board member.

“I would appreciate GRMA correcting these misstatements immediately,” Sasser said his letter. “WRAL reserves its rights to take all appropriate legal measures.”

GRMA notes that on Oct. 20,WRAL filmed and began airing a commercial with the then-GRMA Santa, Ron Campbell, promoting the station’s own broadcast of the parade. (Campbell later resigned from his job as parade Santa and was replaced by GRMA with another Santa.) Further, the letter complains that the WRAL commercials do not mention GRMA, an omission the merchants association alleges is part of a campaign by WRAL to confuse the public about the station’s association with the parade. Hammel said that mentioning GRMA in the station’s promotions would actually create a false association with the parade and add to any confusion.

The GRMA letter also complains that WRAL reporters and anchors are posting information about the parade on their personal and private social media accounts.

The letter is signed “Board of Directors.” GRMA no longer lists its board members on its website.

Hammel said the station did not receive the letter, which ends by calling on WRAL to “do the right thing” and not broadcast the parade, directly from GRMA. The station got it as a member of a mailing list for Shop Local Raleigh, a GRMA initiative, Hammel said.

He added that WRAL will continue with its parade plans.

The letter also referenced previous News & Observer stories on the parade, saying members had been asking “about the continuing newspaper articles trying to portray some type of ‘feud’ between the GRMA and WRAL.”

Online chatter

Over the weekend, GRMA’s letter was posted on a private Facebook group of about 7,800 members devoted to sharing information and selling items in Raleigh. The post by Lorrie Mizell, a parade volunteer and self-described “strong advocate for Shop Local Raleigh and Greater Raleigh Merchants Assoc.,” sparked debate about WRAL’s vow to broadcast the parade.

The post elicited a comment from Anna Goodmon, wife of Capitol Broadcasting president and chief operating officer Jimmy Goodmon, who told group members, “Full disclosure in that I am married to the ‘enemy’ here.”

Goodmon said in her comments that “not all the facts in the GRMA’s email are correct. WRAL was the sponsor for the Raleigh Christmas Parade for 43 years (not just a decade) and very strongly wanted to continue that relationship. In years past when WRAL had served as the media sponsor for the parade, other media outlets (including WTVD) simulcasted the parade coverage as well online, so it has not been as exclusive as this statement implies.”

Goodmon, who gave permission for her comments to be quoted here, goes on to say that “the more eyeballs watching local businesses’ floats, the better in my opinion” and that “I’m likely to get blasted here, but felt compelled to let you all know I am not married to the Grinch who stole Christmas.”

Other commenters on the thread supported GRMA’s letter condemning WRAL, but declined to comment or allow their quotes from the Facebook group to be used in this article.

The future of the parade

As in last week’s letter, Martin has said in the past that WRAL’s broadcast of the parade without sponsorship sets a dangerous precedent and puts future parades at risk, potentially making it more difficult for GRMA to sell sponsorship and fund the parade.

In a recent interview, Jimmy Goodmon said the parade is not in danger.

“I guarantee we will have a Christmas parade,” he said. “I’m not going to let the Raleigh Christmas Parade die. That’s not going to happen.”

Brooke Cain: 919-829-4579, @brookecain

The 2017 Christmas Parade

This year’s parade – officially branded as the 2017 ABC11/LeithCars.com Raleigh Christmas Parade presented by Shop Local Raleigh – is the 73rd in Raleigh’s history.

The Raleigh Christmas Parade always takes place on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. This year’s parade takes place on Saturday.

Tom Llamas, chief national correspondent and anchor of ABC News “World News Tonight” weekend editions, will ride on the ABC11 float along with local anchors and personalities.

ABC11 is also hosting a Holiday Food Drive that will be going on during the parade. Parade-goers who bring three or more cans of food will get a Zaxby’s coupon. The station also will partner with the US Postal Service to collect letters to Santa at the ABC11 Winter Village at the courthouse on Fayetteville Street. The Winter Village will also have an Elfie Selfie station, with an elf available for photos. Food donations can be dropped there as well.

The 1.4-mile parade route begins on Hillsborough Street at St. Mary’s Street and proceeds to the State Capitol, where it turns right onto Salisbury and then left on Morgan before proceeding down Fayetteville Street to Lenoir Street.

The parade, which typically attracts about 65,000 visitors to downtown, reaches up to 250,000 people over TV and online broadcasts, according to the merchants association. It will air on WTVD/ABC11 – and on WRAL – from 10 a.m. to noon.

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